It’s common for projects in Hollywood to get “locked in the vault” after development or option agreements stall. Projects sit for years sometimes waiting for a fresh exec to visit the script graveyard in search of the next “would-be”, “could-be”, “should-be” title. This was nearly the case for “You Get Me” writer Ben Epstein. Epstein’s passion project, ironically named “In the Vault”, was first pushed into development as a one-hour treatment at MTV in 2011, then resurfaced by former MTV exec Polly Auritt, then at Fullscreen, as a half-hour straight-to-series order.
“MTV ultimately passed on [the hour pilot we’d developed] so I figured nothing else was going to come to be with it because most [projects in development] if they don’t get their shot, they die. I never thought the show internally referenced as “College Murder Mystery” or “College Survival Guide” was ever going to come up again,” Epstein told VideoInk in a phone interview. “[Polly],” who headed unscripted for Fullscreen at the time, “called me and said she’d like to revive “College Murder Mystery” as a half-hour format. I assembeld a writers room. We took the pilot and roughly broke it in half, and most of it got rewritten.”
But Fullscreen’s redirection shortly thereafter resulted in yet another hurdle for Epstein and team. With a strong ensemble cast including Claudia Lee (CW’s “Heart of Dixie”), Audrey Whitby (Disney’s “Liv and Maddie”) and Timothy Granaderos (Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”) and a unique murder mystery storyline, Epstein believed the project could find life elsewhere.
And so it has — with Complex Networks, and go90, where the series premiered today. “In the Vault” is a murder mystery that follows a group of dorm-mates who aim to uncover which of them murdered a fellow student at a party. Twenty-two minute episodes will air weekly on Wednesdays, for 8 in total.
“The college years are about reinvention, but when you throw a murder mystery into the mix, those small reinventions can take on sinister undertones. “In The Vault” features a diverse cast with wildly different stories that manage to be both grounded and exciting at the same time,” said Epstein (CAA), who not only wrote the series but directed, executive produced and served as its showrunner. Brendan Bragg, Kevin Mann, and Jordana Mollick are executive produced for Haven Entertainment (UTA) while Justin Killion and Cory Stern serve as executive producers for Complex Networks.
As its first scripted drama, “In the Vault” also sits at the top end of Complex Networks’ average budget, an investment that has produced a very television-like quality for the digital-first publisher. “One more thing to Complex’s credit was they just wanted the coolest most cinematic and interesting show possible. They didn’t give us any edicts on how we had to make it,” Epstein added about the benefits of landing the project with a partner like Complex.
“The most humbling thing about this show is how many incredibly talented people worked so hard on it.” Whether the format will lead to renewals is still a concern for the team involved. But Epstein says that the freedom with the creative process far outweighed the risk of not achieving audience. He also notes that the balance of talent influencers in the cast with traditionally groomed actors was planned to help support marketing and promotions. “We’re ultimatley relying on our cast in the show to get the word out there,” he said.
Within the constraints of digital, television-quality formats like “In the Vault”, are certainly edging the bar higher on expectations.
“It’s a new model and everyone’s trying to figure out how it’s supposed to work within it.”